Master of Liberal Arts '10
Concentration: Anthropology and Media
"I found the MLA program when I was working in the editorial department of the New Jersey Star Ledger, New Jersey's biggest newspaper. The paper started downsizing, and I saw that I needed to reinvent myself as a print journalist and expand my skills. I came across the MLA program on Penn's website and instantly liked that it was both research-driven and interdisciplinary.
"My very first MLA Proseminar on Ethnographic Studies helped me tune into what I wanted to study going forward. My professor had studied how Mormons use the media, and it inspired me to wonder if I could pick another sect and expound on that. For my capstone project I studied Jehovah's Witnesses and how their membership numbers are affected by using different media platforms. In my last semester, I was able to take a class on religion in the media at the Annenberg School for Communication. Only at Penn would a class like that be possible, touching on exactly what I was studying.
"Balancing my studies with work was difficult but doable. My choices were abundant. I could figure out my work schedule and always find a class that worked. In fact there were many more classes I would have liked to take. The professors were amazing; they pushed you and pushed you and pushed you. There's no slack here, but you will rise to the occasion because the support is there. I'm glad I graduated, but I'm sorry the program was only 30 credits.
"I left the newspaper as part of the mass buyout in 2010, and my degree has given me the confidence to pursue anything I want to do. I started my own PR and talent-booking agency, and I am also the executive director of a New Jersey arts incubator non-profit. It's all falling together! There's something that happens to you when you finish graduate school at a place like Penn — you've studied so many different things and you're less afraid.
"To interested MLA students, I'd say "go for it!" The opportunities are endless. You get in there and you realize there's nothing you can't learn in this program if you want to know about it. This is the place to learn it."
Master of Liberal Arts '13
Concentration: History and Writing
"I came to the MLA program to finish what I'd started. I worked at Penn from 1970 to 1985, and had taken courses while I was there. When I heard about the MLA, I thought it would be a great opportunity to earn a master's degree and put those credits to work.
"In the seminars you work very closely with faculty at the top of their fields, writing and working with them one-on-one. It was an incredible opportunity to get exposure to those world-class academics. They stretch you as a thinker and a speaker.
"In my writing course, I wrote what would become the first draft of my capstone project, a fictional diary of a Civil War nurse. My professor encouraged me to keep going. One thing I'd noticed in Civil War history was that it's all the stories of the men, and the battles, and none of the stories of the women. I was taking a nursing history course at the same time, and I thought I could combine those two modes to tell a new story. My professor helped me figure out how to take the story and turn it into reasonably accurate historic fiction. And it worked.
"The MLA staff was incredibly helpful and responsive. At first I thought, oh no, I can't do fiction! But Program Director Chris Pastore helped me visualize how my interest could be turned into a capstone project that would eventually help me earn my degree. The MLA has encouraged me to keep working on the diary and another fiction project that I'm working on, short crime stories set in the Civil War.
"Penn never really leaves you. I love coming back to the campus, and getting all the little notes about what's going on campus and all the research. It's my alma mater now. Most of all, the people are so terrific. The MLA staff will find a way for you to create whatever you want at an Ivy League institution. And here I am just a kid from Michigan; who would have thought it!"